Keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive: a struggle and an imperative in the 21st century
'Most of those who witnessed and survived the horrors of World War II and had the clearest memories of the Holocaust are no longer with us. [...] As Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel stated: "To forget would not only be dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time’”, EU High Representative Josep Borrell said in a statement on the occasion.
Seventy-seven years have passed since the end of the Holocaust, one of the greatest atrocities against humanity. Most of the survivors are no longer with us and their voices can no longer be heard. This is why 2022 Holocaust Remembrance Day highlights the global imperative of Holocaust remembrance and education in the third decade of the 21st century.
Just a few days ago, on 20 January, on the 80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference where the Nazis planned the so-called ‘Final Solution’, the UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution on Holocaust Denial as "a reminder not only of the darkest chapter of Europe's history, but also of our joint efforts to fight Holocaust denial/distortion today".
In an increasingly divided world where disinformation and fake news fuel hatred against minorities, educating new generations about the Holocaust is more important than ever. “Safeguarding the historical record, remembering the victims, challenging the distortion of history often expressed in contemporary antisemitism”, are among the concerns this year´s Holocaust Remembrance Day encompasses.
The struggle of survivors to keep memory alive
How did the survivors overcome that horror and begin to regain their lives and their dignity as human beings? Many of the 2022 commemorative and educational activities will draw attention to the actions taken by Holocaust survivors after the Shoah to reclaim their rights, their history, their cultural heritage and traditions, and their dignity.
A wide range of events organised by the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme will explore the role played by institutions and individuals in supporting survivors, the long-reaching impact of the Holocaust on survivors’ families, and the impact of the Holocaust on the shaping of human rights policy and interventions.
On 27 January, the annual UN Geneva Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony will welcome Holocaust survivor Emma Adjadj, from Marseille, who will share her memories of fleeing the Nazis during the war and of losing her mother and three siblings, who were sent to Auschwitz after a raid on the place where they were staying. Lotte Knudsen, Head of the EU Delegation to the United Nations in Geneva, will hold a speech next to the UNOG Secretary General and the Israeli Ambassador.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will organise in Strasbourg a solemn event with testimonies from survivors, addresses by high-level speakers and a musical performance of a piece composed by a Holocaust victim in Theresienstadt. In addition, a video presenting the European project Convoi 77 will be projected. This unique project intends to piece together the personal life story of each of the 1321 deportees of the last large convoy that left from Drancy to Auschwitz on July 31, 1944, by sending students from the 37 countries the deportees were from on their traces.
Among the various cultural activities organised by the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme, the remarkable exhibition After the End of the World: Displaced Persons and Displaced Persons Camps (20 January – 20 February, New York) aims to shed light on the work of the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), created after the war to resettle the displaced. A series of objects and documents from the past show us how, after catastrophic loss, Holocaust survivors navigated their new lives in displaced persons camps.
There will also be online activities, such as a virtual discussion of the landmark documentary The Last Survivors (10 February) and a virtual conversation with Elisabeth Anthony, author of the book The Compromise of Return: Viennese Jews after the Holocaust (17 February).
EU steps up its fight against antisemitism
In 2021, the EU released its first-ever ‘Strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish Life (2021-2030)’.
“We have a duty to preserve the memory of all victims and their suffering. We owe it to those who perished in the Holocaust, we owe it to the survivors, and we owe it to our future generations”, reads the HR/VP statement to mark the day.
The strategy contains several provisions on combatting Antisemitism inside and outside the EU and on supporting Holocaust remembrance, including the creation of a European research hub on contemporary antisemitism.
To raise awareness of the increasingly worrying issue of Holocaust distortion, the European Commission, together with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, UNESCO and the UN, will launch the #ProtectTheFacts campaign on 27 January. On that day, the Berlaymont building, the EC's headquarters, will be illuminated to honour the victims.